Middle East Update

Middle East – North Africa News Brief: Regional Low Intensity Conflicts

MENA Regional Low Intensity Conflicts, March 19 – 26

The US and UK governments announced an immediate travel ban on March 21st that bans travelers from certain airports from carrying-on electronics larger than a cell phone to US and UK direct-bound flights.

Airports affected by the US ban are:

  • Queen Alia International Airport, Amman, Jordan
  • Cairo International Airport, Cairo, Egypt
  • Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
  • King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khaled International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International Airport, Farwaniya, Kuwait
  • Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca, Morocco
  • Hamad Internatiomal Airport, Doha, Qatar
  • Dubai International Airport, Dubai, UAE
  • Abu Dhabi International Airport, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In addition, airports in the following countries are all inclusively affected by the UK ban:

  • Turkey
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan
  • Egypt
  • Tunisia
  • Saudi Arabia

Travelers leaving from these countries, or airports, will be required to check electronics larger than cellphones in their checked baggage. US carriers are not impacted under the US ban, but UK carriers flying direct from impacted countries to the UK are required to abide to the new UK restrictions. The regulations are in part a response to the long running intelligence reports indicating that anti-Western terror groups intend to stage terrorist attacks against aviation targets. The US intelligence community has in recent months been reviewing the current threat picture, and the new travel regulations are said to be in view of these reviews.


3 individuals have been detained at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul by Turkish police. Their arrest was based on reports from the Turkish intelligence directorate that the individuals were involved in the December 2016 Berlin Christmas attack. Previous arrests have been based on telephone contacts and patterns, or by online communication, by the Berlin attacker.

On the night of March 18th 6 individuals were detained by Security Forces on suspicion of having affiliations with the Islamic State. The individuals were detained in Kagithane, but also in the Istanbul suburbs of Gungoren, Tuzla, Umraniye, and Uskudar. The evidence being used against them is reportedly based on messages over the Telegram messaging platform.

On March 21st, Turkish Security Forces detained five “foreign nationals” for traveling with fake travel documents, military-style uniforms, and unused cellphones. The identity of the individuals has not yet been released, but indicators are that they originated from Central Asia. The “military-style uniforms” that they allegedly traveled with were manufactured by the American tactical clothing brand 5.11.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Europeans on March 22nd that they “would no longer be able to walk safely in the street” if European politicians continued to “provoke” Turkey and its leaders. The timing of Mr. Erdogan’s warning has been widely commented on, as it came mere hours before a deadly terror attack outside of the British Parliament in London, UK.


In the past week the Ministry of Health (MoH) has reported 4 additional cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV). The majority of the cases were reported from Wadi Ad-Dawasir, in the Riyadh province. The reports indicate that the number of new cases reported of MERS-CoV in March is now standing at 13 individuals.

The Ministry of Interior (MoI) released a statement on March 19th stating that in the past week the Saudi Security Forces have been able to prevent “several attempts to plant land mines, and to smuggle weaponry into the Kingdom” along the southern border; the Saudi-Yemeni border. A total of 30 individuals have been detained in connection to these attempts, 19 of which are Ethiopian, and 7 that are Yemeni. 3 individuals whose nationalities are not yet released resisted detention, and were shot and killed in clashes with Saudi Security Forces.

Saudi Arabia’s PATRIOT anti-missile system intercepted a missile fired by the Yemeni militia group al Houthi from Yemen over the Jazan province on March 17th, as well as on March 20th. Rumors are circulating that the missile was of the Soviet SCUD missile design. If this proves accurate it would mark the second successful interception of a SCUD missile by Saudi forces in 2017. On March 18th the al Houthi group fired a Burkan-2 ballistic missile from positions in the Saada, Northern Yemen, against the King Salman Air Base in central Riyadh. Al Houthi controlled media claims that the missile did hit its intended target. On March 19th the al Houthi controlled media also claimed missiles had struck the King Faisel Military City in Southern Hamis Muhsait. As of now, there appears to be no open source intelligence confirmation of these claims.

Two individuals were killed, and two others injured, due to shelling from al Houthi positions in Yemen on March 23rd. One of the dead was a soldier on patrol in the Dhahran al-Janub Asir Province. The other was a child whose two parents were also injured when an al Houthi rocket struck their house in Najran City, in the Najan Province

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid al-Falih said that the government of Saudi Arabia is “not happy” about a US law that enables victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue foreign governments that are perceived of having been part, through action or inaction, in the 9/11 attacks. Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront as an example of this. The first two lawsuits against Saudi Arabia were introduced in 2017. Mr. al-Falih said he expects US President Donald Trump to seek to revoke the law.


Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels were reported as trailing behind the US Carrier Strike Group 2 in the Straight of Hormuz on March 22. The Strike Group reported that they witnessed Iranian military speedboats and other vessels approaching while the Iranian vessels were visibly loading their onboard weaponries. The Iranian vessels did not engage the American Strike Group, and did not approach closer than 500 meters. The approach did cause an increase of security alert status in the strike group, and it was announced that a heightened state of alert is in full affect.

On March 8th a US naval surveillance ship was forced to change its set course due to Iranian vessels intercepting its course, and back on January 8th a US Navy Destroyer fired warning shots against Iranian military vessels deemed to be “harassing” the US Navy group. US President Donald Trump has stated that if similar actions occur he intends to order the Iranian naval vessels to be “shot out of the water”.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated on March 21st that Iran will confront any external entities that seek to interfere with the upcoming Presidential Election in May. The election is perceived as being of particular importance, as the country’s conservative hardliners are seeking to defeat the moderate current President, Hassan Rouhani. Khamenei represents largely these hardliner elements. In Iranian New Year remarks carried live on Iranian state television, Khamenei stated:

I will confront anyone who wants to tamper with the results of the people’s vote. In previous years and previous elections … it was the same. Some of it was in front of people’s eyes and they became aware of it. And some of it they were not aware of but I was informed about it … It was revealed in 2009 – they came out and drew battle lines. And in other years in other ways, but in all these years I stood against them and said whatever the results of the election are, they must be carried out.

Pro-democracy monitoring groups have largely been prevented from monitoring recent elections in Iran.

The family of Robert A. Levinson, a part-time Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) consultant and former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigator, filed a lawsuit on March 22nd against Iran. This after Mr. Levinson disappeared while investigating cigarette smuggling through Iranian territory for the US government in March, 2007. Iranian authorities have insisted they have no information of his whereabouts or what happened to him.


The Bahraini state charged Ibrahim Sharif, one of the key founding members of the National Democratic Action Society (WaaD) with “inciting hatred” through “social media interactions” on March 20th. This marks the 3rd time that Mr. Sharif has been charged for similar charges. The most famous incident was when he faced charges in November 2016 for “encouraging violence” and “inciting hatred” against the government during British Prince, Prince Charles’ visit to the country.

The Bahraini High Criminal Court announced the death sentence for 3 Shiite men for their involvement in a series of bomb attacks in 2014, one of which injured a police officer. 14 other individuals were also tried in connection to the case, but received between 10 years and life sentences.

The Shia protests continue to surge throughout the country, albeit with diminishing number of protestors, with daily protests.


An explosion occurred on the main through path of al-Gazaer Street in Maadi, Cairo, on March 24th. One male individual was killed, while the man’s wife and two children were injured. The explosion appears to have been an accident, having been caused by the male having kicked the package containing explosives on the ground.

A 30-year-old Egyptian male was shot and killed in the al-Tob area of the al-Asher neighborhood of Nasr City on March 19th. Police have detained one individual for the attack.


A house invasion of a 39-year-old Jordanian woman resulted in the woman’s death on March 23rd. Her two children, and the family maid, was also injured. The attack happened at 0300 local time, in the al Faseel neighborhood of Fujairah. The woman was the wife of Dr. Ibrahim al Mansouri, who is the acting Vice President of the University of Sharjah. A 23-year-old Pakistani male was arrested suspected for the attack after he was found driving the woman’s vehicle. The man is believed to have ties to the family, as a former employee.


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